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April 23, 2019

The Tufts Daily: Ayanna Pressley speaks on experiences, policy making at Tisch College event

Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke on a variety of subjects, including her congressional campaign and her stance on legislation supporting the impeachment of Donald Trump, last night at the ASEAN Auditorium in an event organized by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Alan Solomont, the dean of Tisch College, led the interview, which lasted for over an hour.

Pressley represents the Seventh District of Massachusetts, which includes the Somerville side of the Tufts campus.

Pressley is the first black woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress as a representative for the state of Massachusetts. Solomont said that,prior to her current position as legislator, she was a member of the Boston City Council — the first black woman to be elected to this body.

In an interview with the Daily before the event, Pressley discussed what she has learned from her time in public office.

“What I’ve learned is that your past informs your present. But you don’t have to be hostage to it,” Pressley said. “And at the same time, you should stand in the truth of that lived experience — whatever it is — and carry that with you in every room.”

She expanded on this point, referencing her own past and history of trauma.

“When I talk about being a survivor of sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse, when I talk about the struggles of being raised in a single parented household and my father battling and overcoming addiction or how it destabilized our home when he was incarcerated, that is my truth,” she said. “I’m standing in it. I’m not hostage to it. I should have been a statistic for a lot of reasons.”

In her talk in the ASEAN Auditorium, Pressley said her lived experiences have emboldened her conviction and directed her focus to support women, particularly marginalized black women.

“The Massachusetts Seventh [District] is the most diverse and unequal district in our delegation and arguable one of the most unequal in the country. From Cambridge to Roxbury, life expectancy drops by 30 years and immediate household income by $50,000,” she said.

Alongside Rep. Katherine Clark, who represents the Medford side of Tufts, Pressley is currently cosponsoring a new piece of legislation called Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination (Be HEARD), which is meant to address workplace harassment and discrimination for lower-income workers.

“I didn’t feel that the faces of those [the #MeToo and Time’s Up] movements were inclusive of every worker,” Pressley said in her talk. “And so this bill is not just about Hollywood; it is not just about Congress. This is about farm workers, this is about tipped workers, this is about domestic workers.”

Some components of Be HEARD include an extension of the statute of limitations for when a survivor can file a grievance or claim, a lift in the cap on monetary compensation and an elimination of pre-employment non-disclosure agreements.

Be HEARD is one of more than 115 pieces of legislation that Pressley has either sponsored or cosponsored in the little more than 100 days she has been in office, according to Solomont. Pressley has also been a strong advocate for the Green New Deal and attempted to pass an amendment that would lower the voting age to 16. The latter legislation, however, was defeated 305–126, according to The Hill.

The discussion eventually shifted to the current status of the Democratic party. When asked whether the divisions in the current Democratic party posed any risks for the2020 elections, Pressley responded by calling for increased diversity in government.

“We’re very celebratory about the fact that this is the biggest most diverse, representative class in the history of Congress,” she said. “A more representative government means that different questions are asked. And new issues are considered.”

She elaborated on this by hinting at future dissension in the Democratic party and expressing her thoughts on how to remain stable through this change .

“There is going to be conflict. We are building new muscle and when we have built that muscle effectively, then we can figure out how to flex it,” she said. “But it does mean for right now we’re experiencing growing pains, and I think people should not project their worst assumptions about what this will mean.”

Solomont later asked about how she saw the issue of President Donald Trump’simpeachment following the release of Robert Mueller’s report.

“I do believe what we have seen from the Mueller report, what is unredacted, does make the case for witness tampering, obstruction of justice, lawlessness, efforts to suppress the independent investigation in the first place,” Pressley said. “No one person is above the law, including the occupant of this White House.”

Pressley also stated she has signed onto a resolution offered by Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Al Green to initiate impeachment proceedings in the judiciary committee.

During a time for student questions, Pressley was asked about her motivations to incorporate her personal experiences in to her work. She opened up about her father’s struggles and triumphs.

“My father went on to become a professor of journalism. He pursued advanced degrees while he was incarcerated. He came out … a few credits short of a Ph.D., went on to become a professor of journalism and is now a published author. He made it to the other side,” she said. “But he was someone who was battling a substance abuse disorder, an opioid addiction because of trauma he experienced in his life, and he was self medicating like millions of Americans.”

Pressley explained that when she shares her life experiences, she aims to acknowledge that her experience is the shared experience of millions of others, and her goal in standing in her truth is to liberate the truths of others.

When asked by the Daily what advice she had for students to remain engaged citizens, Pressley said, “Make sure you’re getting an education beyond the classroom.”